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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 8

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Joshua 8:0


The Capture of AiThe Fall of AiVictory at AiThe Capture and Destruction of AiThe Command Given To Joshua
Joshua 8:1-2Joshua 8:1-2Joshua 8:1-2Joshua 8:1-2Joshua 8:1-2
Joshua's Stratagem
Joshua 8:3-9Joshua 8:3-8Joshua 8:3-9Joshua 8:3-9Joshua 8:3-8
Joshua 8:9-13Joshua 8:9-13
Joshua 8:10-17Joshua 8:10-17Joshua 8:10-17
The Capture of Ai
Joshua 8:14-17Joshua 8:14-17
Joshua 8:18-23Joshua 8:18-23Joshua 8:18-23Joshua 8:18-23Joshua 8:18-19
Joshua 8:20-25
Ai Destroyed
Joshua 8:24-29Joshua 8:24-29Joshua 8:24-29Joshua 8:24-29The Curse of Destruction; the Destruction of the Town
Joshua 8:26-29
Joshua Builds an AltarJoshua Renews the CovenantThe Altar on Mount EbalThe Law is Read at Mount EbalThe Altar of Undressed Stones
Joshua 8:30-35Joshua 8:30-35Joshua 8:30-35Joshua 8:30-35Joshua 8:30-31
The Reading of the Law
Joshua 8:32-35

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 8:1-2 1Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. 2You shall go to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves. Set an ambush for the city behind it.”

Joshua 8:1 YHWH gives Joshua a series of commands and promises based on the restored holiness of Israel:

1. “Do not fear,” BDB 431, KB 432, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.

2. “Do not be dismayed,” BDB 369, KB 365, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

3. “Take all the people,” BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE

4. “Arise,” BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERATIVE

5. “Go up to Ai,” BDB 748, KB 828, Qal IMPERATIVE

6. “See, I have given,” BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERATIVE followed by BDB 678, KB 733, Qal PERFECT

YHWH renews His encouragement and assurances from Joshua 1:9.

“Take all the people of war with you” The phrase “all the people of war” (cf. Joshua 8:3; Joshua 10:7; Joshua 11:7, Joshua 11:18, Joshua 11:19, Joshua 11:20), can refer to less than the total number. Compare Joshua 8:5 with 3:12-13; for the same type of example, also see Joshua 8:16 as compared to Joshua 8:19.

Joshua 8:2 “you shall take only its spoils and its cattle as plunder for yourselves” Jericho was totally dedicated to God (under the ban), but Ai was only partially under the ban (humans must die, but other things of value can go to the soldiers and their families, cf. Joshua 8:27).

“set an ambush for the city behind it” YHWH gives the battle strategy (BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal IMPERATIVE). There seems to be some confusion as to how to relate the two ambushes mentioned in Joshua 8:3 and 12. There has been much speculation, but no consensus. To me it seems that possibly both cities, Ai and Bethel, were defeated and burned at the same time (cf. Joshua 8:17).

“spoil. . .plunder” These two terms relate to the same thing.

1. spoil (BDB 1021) can mean “prey,” “spoil,” “booty,” or “plunder.” It refers to things (sometimes people) taken in battle, then divided among the soldiers (cf. Genesis 49:27; Judges 5:30) and other covenant partners (cf. Numbers 31:26-54; 1 Samuel 30:24).

2, plunder (BDB 102, KB 117, Qal IMPERFECT). This term is basically synonymous with spoil. This was the wages of the soldiers (cf. Ezekiel 29:19).

Verses 3-9

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 8:3-9 3So Joshua rose with all the people of war to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose 30, 000 men, valiant warriors, and sent them out at night. 4He commanded them, saying, “See, you are going to ambush the city from behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you be ready. 5Then I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out to meet us as at the first, we will flee before them. 6They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city, for they will say, 'They are fleeing before us as at the first.' So we will flee before them. 7And you shall rise from your ambush and take possession of the city, for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. 8Then it will be when you have seized the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do it according to the word of the LORD. See, I have commanded you.” 9So Joshua sent them away, and they went to the place of ambush and remained between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua spent that night among the people.

Joshua 8:3 “30,000” This was only the part of the army that hid in ambush. For another group see Joshua 8:12. This number implies that the army was about 40,000 in total. Obviously Joshua approached the city with a small number of troops. The other option has to do with the meaning of “thousand.” See Special Topic: Thousand (eleph).

NASB“valiant warriors” NKJV“mighty men of valor” NRSV“warriors” TEV“best troops” NJB“bravest”

This phrase is a construct relationship between “mighty” (BDB 150) and “strength” (BDB 298). It is often used of military persons (cf. Joshua 1:14; Joshua 6:2; Joshua 8:3; Joshua 10:7; Judges 6:12; Judges 11:1; 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Samuel 16:18; 1 Kings 11:28; 2 Kings 5:1; 2 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 24:14, 2 Kings 24:16). It can be used of an army (cf. Exodus 14:4, Exodus 14:9, Exodus 14:17, Exodus 14:28; Exodus 15:4; 1 Samuel 17:20; 2 Samuel 8:9; 2 Kings 6:4, 2 Kings 6:15; 2 Kings 25:1, 2 Kings 25:5, 2 Kings 25:10). This was an elite fighting force!

Joshua 8:4 Joshua repeats the instructions he received from YHWH.

1. “See,” BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERATIVE, repeated in Joshua 8:8

2. “Do not go very far from the city,” BDB 934, KB 1221, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

Joshua 8:8 “you shall set the city on fire” The VERB (BDB 428, KB 429, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is an aspect of holy war (cf. Joshua 8:19; Judges 9:49), but usually another VERB (BDB 976, KB 1358) is used (cf. Numbers 31:10; Joshua 6:24; Joshua 11:11; Judges 18:27; 1 Samuel 30:1, 1 Samuel 30:3) or BDB 1018, KB 1511 (cf. Judges 1:8; Judges 20:48).

Fire is both a judgment and a way of cleansing. See Special Topic at Joshua 7:25.

“according to the word of the LORD” This is the key theological phrase in the OT. Here it refers to Deuteronomy 20:16-18. However, the concept is wider (cf. Isaiah 45:23; Isaiah 55:11). It is the human side of covenant!

Joshua 8:9 “So Joshua spent the night among the people” This phrase is possibly to reassure the people of God's presence and power for the upcoming battle. A very similar Hebrew phrase is repeated in Joshua 8:13 with the change of one additional Hebrew consonant. It is obvious that there is some confusion in this chapter about how Ai was defeated.

Verses 10-17

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 8:10-17 10Now Joshua rose early in the morning and mustered the people, and he went up with the elders of Israel before the people to Ai. 11Then all the people of war who were with him went up and drew near and arrived in front of the city, and camped on the north side of Ai. Now there was a valley between him and Ai. 12And he took about 5, 000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. 13So they stationed the people, all the army that was on the north side of the city, and its rear guard on the west side of the city, and Joshua spent that night in the midst of the valley. 14It came about when the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose up early and went out to meet Israel in battle, he and all his people at the appointed place before the desert plain. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. 16And all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city. 17So not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who had not gone out after Israel, and they left the city unguarded and pursued Israel.

Joshua 8:10-17 This paragraph gives the details of the battle for both Ai and Bethel.

Verses 18-23

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 8:18-23 18Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” So Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19The men in ambush rose quickly from their place, and when he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it, and they quickly set the city on fire. 20When the men of Ai turned back and looked, behold, the smoke of the city ascended to the sky, and they had no place to flee this way or that, for the people who had been fleeing to the wilderness turned against the pursuers. 21When Joshua and all Israel saw that the men in ambush had captured the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and slew the men of Ai. 22The others came out from the city to encounter them, so that they were trapped in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side; and they slew them until no one was left of those who survived or escaped. 23But they took alive the king of Ai and brought him to Joshua.

Joshua 8:18 “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai” Here again we see the similarity between God's dealing with Moses in the use of the shepherd's staff and His dealing with Joshua in the use of the javelin. Both the staff (BDB 641, cf. Exodus 4:20; Exodus 17:9; Numbers 20:8) and javelin (BDB 475) show the power is of God and not in human leaders.

The VERB (BDB 639, KB 692, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used several times of YHWH directing Moses (cf. Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5, Exodus 8:6; Exodus 9:22; Exodus 10:12; Exodus 17:16,21; Isaiah 10:26).

Verses 24-29

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 8:24-29 24Now when Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the field in the wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them were fallen by the edge of the sword until they were destroyed, then all Israel returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. 25All who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000--all the people of Ai. 26For Joshua did not withdraw his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27Israel took only the cattle and the spoil of that city as plunder for themselves, according to the word of the LORD which He had commanded Joshua 2:0; Joshua 2:08So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation until this day. 29He hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset Joshua gave command and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the city gate, and raised over it a great heap of stones that stands to this day.

Joshua 8:24 Notice the variety of terms used to describe the defeat of the inhabitants of Ai.

1. “Israel had finished killing”

a. finish, BDB 477, KB 476, Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

b. kill, BDB 246, KB 255, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

2. “All of them were fallen by the edge of the sword”

a. fallen, BDB 656, KB 709, Qal IMPERFECT

b. edge of sword, BDB 804 CONSTRUCT 352 (twice)

3. “Until they were all destroyed”


b. finished, BDB 1070, KB 1752, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

4. “Struck,” BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil IMPERFECT

The first three of these describe the slaughter of their men of war; number 4 describes the death of the rest of the inhabitants of Ai.

Joshua 8:26 This reflects the curse of Deuteronomy 21:23. The king was killed by impaling. As Israel raised a memorial heap of stones over Achan, so too, the king of Ai.

Joshua 8:28 “forever” See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

Verses 30-35

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 8:30-35 30Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, 31just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. 32He wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel. 33All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. 34Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.

Joshua 8:30 “Mount Ebal” This was one of the two hills on each side of the city of Shechem. This was the site of the covenant renewal ceremony dictated by Moses. The Levitical singers climbed each hill and chanted the cursings and blessings antiphonally (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28). Mounts Ebal and Gerizim became known as the mountains of cursing and blessing.

One wonders how Joshua could move so fast through enemy territory. The events of Joshua 8:30-35 might fit better historically at chapter 24. These kinds of historical questions cannot be answered. These ancient Hebrew texts do not conform to modern histography. Chronology is secondary to theology! I surely affirm the historicity and inspiration of the OT without fully comprehending how it is structured. See Introductory articles.

Joshua 8:31 “as it is written in the book of the law of Moses” This refers to Exodus 20:20, Exodus 20:24-26 and Deuteronomy 27:5-7.

The revelation of YHWH to and through Moses goes by several descriptions.

1. “the law which Moses My servant commanded you,” Joshua 1:7; Joshua 22:5

2. “this book of the law,” Joshua 1:8

3. “the book of the law of Moses,” Joshua 8:31; Joshua 23:6

4. “the words of the law,” Joshua 8:34

5. “the book of the law of God,” Joshua 24:26

“an altar of uncut stones” The Canaanite altars were made of cut stones, but YHWH's altars were always made of uncut stones (cf. Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5, Deuteronomy 27:6), therefore, they were immediately identifiable.

“they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings” See Special Topic below.


Joshua 8:32 This probably refers to the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20:0; Deuteronomy 5:0). Stones were covered with plaster and written on (cf. Deuteronomy 27:4).

Joshua 8:33 Notice the list of leaders: elders, officers, judges, priests.

“the stranger” This could refer to (1) believing Egyptians who left Egypt with the Jews in the exodus; (2) people who had earlier joined Israel, like Caleb or Rahab; or (3) others who joined during the wilderness wandering period. The book of Deuteronomy is very conscious of these believing aliens within Israel.

Joshua 8:34 “all the words of the law” This could refer to the five books of Moses (Joshua 8:35) or the summary book of Deuteronomy.

Joshua 8:35 Every one heard the words of the covenant renewal service, even the women and children who were usually not included with the men in worship settings.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is chapter 8 so confusing, with two different ambushes (cf. v. Joshua 8:3 and v. Joshua 8:12)?

2. How are verses Joshua 8:30-35 related to the book of Deuteronomy and what is the significance of these verses?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Joshua 8". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/joshua-8.html. 2021.
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